Donald Trump has provided a special counsel with written answers to questions about his knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election, his lawyers said, avoiding for now a potentially risky sit-down with prosecutors.
It is the first time the president has directly co-operated with the long investigation.
The step is a milestone in the negotiations between Mr Trump’s lawyers and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over whether and when the president might sit for an interview.
The compromise, nearly a year in the making, offers some benefit to both sides. Mr Trump temporarily averts the threat of an in-person interview, which his lawyers have long resisted, while Mr Mueller secures on-the-record statements whose accuracy the president will be expected to stand by for the duration of the investigation.
The responses may also help stave off a potential subpoena fight over Mr Trump’s evidence if Mr Mueller deems them satisfactory. They represent the first time the president is known to have described to investigators his knowledge of key moments under scrutiny by prosecutors.
But investigators may still press for more information.
Mr Mueller’s team months ago presented Mr Trump’s legal team with dozens of questions they wanted to ask the president related to whether his campaign co-ordinated with the Kremlin to tip the 2016 election and whether he sought to obstruct the Russia probe by actions including the firing of former FBI director James Comey.
The investigators agreed to accept written responses to questions about potential Russian collusion and tabled, for the moment, obstruction-related inquiries.
Mr Mueller left open the possibility that he would follow up with additional questions on obstruction, though Mr Trump’s lawyers — who had long resisted any face-to-face interview — have been especially adamant that the constitution shields him from having to answer any questions about actions he took as president.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow offered no details on the current Q&A, saying only that “the written questions submitted by the special counsel’s office … dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry. The president responded in writing”.
He said the legal team would not release copies of the questions and answers or discuss any correspondence it has had with the special counsel’s office.
Another of Mr Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said the team continues to believe that “much of what has been asked raised serious constitutional issues and was beyond the scope of a legitimate inquiry”. He said Mr Mueller’s office had received “unprecedented co-operation from the White House”, including about 1.4 million pages of materials.
“It is time to bring this inquiry to a conclusion,” Mr Giuliani said.
The president told reporters last week that he had prepared the responses himself.
He said in a Fox News interview that aired on Sunday that he was unlikely to answer questions about obstruction, saying: “I think we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is, probably, we’re finished.”